Black Swan and Rodarte

At first I was surprised to learn that Rodarte had designed the costumes and hairpieces for Black Swan, but after finding out how the sisters got their start in fashion, it makes perfect sense. I read an interview given by Natalie Portman where the two sisters talked about how after college they scrapped the biology and art history degrees they had just earned and moved back home to live with their parents. They spent that entire year watching horror film after horror film in order to develop their taste and vision for Rodarte. The costumes in Black Swan are phenomenal, but my favorite creation is the Black Swan headpiece (shown above) made out of metal daggers, thorns, spikes, and don't forget the Swarovski crystals!

Click here to read the entire, super-entertaining interview with the designers.


Overrated Design

The Bouroullec's Ovale Collection for Alessi
Lately I’ve been reading a lot about Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s new tableware line for Alessi.  It’s being touted on many blogs and in magazines for its clean lines and simple design and I think all the hype is a little ridiculous.  To me, the “collection” looks nice, but ultimately pretty ordinary.  I don’t mean to pick on the Bouroullec brothers— it’s a trend happening to many designers today who are getting too many accolades for standard work.  Don’t get me wrong, I would rather have everyone jazzed about the latest fork on the market than for good design to go unrecognized, but think perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. I remember not too long ago when most of us bought our toasters from Kmart and didn’t know or care about the designer.  I’m glad there is an awareness of industrial design today, but also don’t think every single thing created deserves the level of worship that has become expected today. Is Jasper Morrison’s spoon really better than the no-name spoon I currently have in my drawer?  Believe me, I appreciate good design and the small details that separate good from bad, but I’m going to revolt if I read one more profile about the hot new chair that looks just like the new hot chair from 30 years ago and countless subsequent chairs!  I want to hear about actual innovation.  Where do you stand on this issue?
Jasper Morrison tableware


Coming back around to Monet

Claude Monet is a good example of what I refer to as a 360-degree artist. Future art historians first go into the field loving his work, then start to lose enthusiasm upon discovering many other great (less commercial) artists, before coming full circle to appreciating his contribution to art history. I reached that last step when I discovered more about his practice of endlessly reproducing the same image in order to “get it right,” which in Monet’s case meant perfectly capturing the light and atmospheric effects of a particular scene.  He worked in this obsessive compulsive way throughout his career and you can see it in his multiple series, such as the 15 paintings of haystacks he made between 1890-91, the 31 paintings of the Rouen Cathedral between 1892-94 and the numerous Water Lily paintings created throughout his lifetime.  These are works we’ve all seen endlessly reproduced on mouse pads, key chains and mugs so it’s easy to brush them off simply as pretty pictures.  It’s more interesting to think of these works as they really were—exercises for Monet to hone his craft. Understanding more the attention, tenacity, rigor and discipline that went into his work makes me appreciate him on a deeper level.  Many artists work in series, but for them it often means creating a diverse body of work united by the same theme.  For Monet it meant recreating virtually the same image over and over again. This couldn’t have been fun or exciting in the traditional sense, but I get the sense that for Monet art was more about work than play. Realizing that made me see his lighthearted subject matter in a new way and ultimately come back around to liking Monet again.


Nancy Drew and the 1988 Seoul Games

Elena Shushunova
Daniela Silivas
I was enthusiastic about many things when I was a kid—Kraft singles, fruit roll ups, Wrinkles dolls, Sweet Valley High—but two things particularly fascinated me:
 1.  A VHS tape of the women’s gymnastics competition at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea that I watched at least a hundred times with my sister
 2.  A Nancy Drew book titled Captive Witness about Nancy’s quest to save refugee children from an iron curtain country (while she was studying abroad!)
They actually have something in common— they provided a scary and fascinating glimpse into Cold War politics to an otherwise sheltered girl living in the middle of nowhere Michigan. 
No history book could make the effects of the Cold War as real to me (at that time, of course) as the sport of gymnastics.  By 1988 the Soviets had a long legacy of dominating in the sport and it continued that year with Elena Shushunova’s victory over Daniela Silivas of Romania, as well as the Soviet Union's win in the team event over Romania.  I didn’t realize it at the time but Seoul was the last Olympics before the dissolution of the Soviet Union into many separate counties.  When the Barcelona games came around in 1992, things were different.  The best gymnasts of the Soviet Union were now competing for as many as 15 different countries.  Although that paved the way for the Americans to make a name for themselves, I really felt sad for the former Soviets who sacrificed so much for their sport and were under an insane amount of pressure from the government and their families to not just medal, but get the GOLD.
Around the same time I read Captive Witness and while I don’t remember the story much at all, the book cover has stayed in my head over 20 years later!  I remember it almost verbatim except I swore she was wearing a swim cap to match her black wetsuit in my childhood version.  There’s something about that image of Nancy at night, in the water, while a guard keeps watch, that really creeped me out and gave me additional context (as ridiculous as that sounds) for the bleak life of the Soviet gymnasts at that time.